NEW YORK — As more consumers are turning to the Internet for real estate information, more brokers and agents are sorting through how to attract these people to their sites and build relationships that turn into sales.

Panelists at Real Estate Connect in Manhattan last week discussed what consumers are doing with real estate on the Web, strategies for brand building and various business models built around matching consumers to real estate professionals.

Some lead-generation companies don’t build their own brands online, but instead focus on connecting the consumer with the

NEW YORK — As more consumers are turning to the Internet for real estate information, more brokers and agents are sorting through how to attract these people to their sites and build relationships that turn into sales.

Panelists at Real Estate Connect in Manhattan last week discussed what consumers are doing with real estate on the Web, strategies for brand building and various business models built around matching consumers to real estate professionals.

Some lead-generation companies don’t build their own brands online, but instead focus on connecting the consumer with the brokerage brand. For instance, HomeGain operates by selling leads to brokers and agents on a cost-per-click basis and by subscription.

“There is a difference in (our) business model from LendingTree.com,” said Richard Sommer, CEO of HomeGain. The company “is on the other end of the spectrum. We really don’t build our brand,” he said.

HomeGain founder Bradley Inman is the founder and publisher of Inman News.

Tom Reddin, CEO of IAC Financial Services and Real Estate, which operates LendingTree.com and RealEstate.com, addressed the question of brand conflicts. “When we promote Weichert or Prudential Northern California on our site,” Reddin said, “we show a lot about the companies.”

Reddin used Coca Cola as an example of a brand that works in cohorts with many other brands without conflict.

“Coca Cola works with hundreds, if not thousands of outlets,” he said. “When Disney builds its brand and sells Coca Cola at Disney and Coca Cola is building its brand, they’re not in conflict.”

“We do the same with MSN, Yahoo! and Google; in particular, with Yahoo! and MSN…It’s a co-marketing, co-branded relationship,” Reddin said. “Brokers are seeing this as a new incremental source of business.”

Matt Coffin, CEO of LowerMyBills.com, talked about how comparison shopping on the Internet is an attraction for many consumers.

“In general, what is happening is that people are concerned for their own brand but consumers are voting with their clicks. There are many evolutionary or revolutionary models that have come on the Web. As an example, in the case of LowerMyBills or LendingTree, it’s the ability to do comparison shopping and have lenders compete for your business. Consumers want that versus a direct lender,” Coffin said.

There is concern that the Web is the best vehicle ever created for transparency into price and choice, Coffin said, and that levels the playing field and can be scary for people.

Lowermybills.com is a financial services and real estate advertiser. The service differs from portals and search engines by focusing on specific industries.

“We allow our clients to get very specific, meaning ‘I want that particular customer in that particular geography. Or the amount they’re willing to spend on a home and the amount of a loan,'” Coffin said. While search engines don’t offer segmentation and targeting in the same way, he added.

“At present, we have not built our own Realtor vertical, so we’ve partnered in many situations with HomeGain. Mortgage brokers and lenders can sign for the service and they are charged on a per-lead basis based on up to 25 different criteria,” he said.

Simon Baker, CEO of RealEstate.com.au in Australia, discussed the differences and similarities in lead-generation companies in the United States and in other countries. “In many respects, the United States is ahead of us, especially in the concept of leads and lead management,” he said.

“We’re about 12 months behind and the U.K. is another 12 months behind us. I believe we are ahead in brand building. We have over 2 million people visit the (RealEstate.com.au) Web site each month. (There are only 20 million people in Australia.) We work with the brokers to promote themselves,” Baker said.

Baker recommends brokers have a budget for brand building and lead generation. “The lead-generation budget should be online; the brand-building budget should be on and offline,” he said. “You have to be in the solution set when the seller comes along and gives you a call. You want to make sure they are thinking about your brand and they may not be looking online first.”

RealEstate.com.au started about 10 years ago and not has about 85 percent of the nation’s industry paying to use the site, according to Baker. The company is 60 percent owned by News Corp, which operates newspapers in the U.K. and Australia, he said.

“We’ve actually helped to redo how print advertising works for real estate. We also have purchased sites in the U.K. and in New Zealand,” Baker said. “It’s an advertiser model. You pay a flat fee to be there and have exclusive listings.”

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